"Ending" Abortion versus "Outlawing" it

An interesting discussion on Inside Catholic has pointed out what appears to others to be an inconsistency in my thought:

  • On the one hand, I hold with Evangelium Vitae that we must fight for an immediate outlawing of all abortion and contraception, and that to say “We can’t make it illegal now” is the sin of despair.
  • On the other hand, when liberals talk about curing poverty, I quote Jesus saying, “The poor will always be with you.”

The apparent contradiction derives from confusion over the goal of *outlawing* abortion and contraception completely, versus the goal of “ending” them completely.

Obviously, abortion will go on, even if it is illegal. Many things are illegal, but they go on, anyway: drug abuse, rape, and, O yes, murder.

Making abortion illegal, or making contraception illegal, is about stopping these practices, but I don’t think anyone really thinks they’ll go away completely. They will, however, be “greatly reduced,” just as measures designed to prevent the temptations and pressures that lead people to these sins should also be reduced.

Teaching chastity and abstinence is a big way to prevent abortion and contraception. Another way to prevent abortions is to teaching Natural Family Planning to teenagers, both so they can understand their fertility, and also so they can understand that, when a girl is fertile, she’s both less inhibited and expontentially more desirable to men. If teenagers use NFP for contraception, that’s at least not as bad as them using condoms Pills or being *taught* to use condoms or Pills. But it is unlikely that a teen who’d like to use “NFP for contraception” is going to do so, for the same reason that NFP is challenging to married adults: when fertility goes, generally speaking, so does sexual desire.

In any case, “conservatives” support both things: teaching abstinence (and, in the case of some Catholics, NFP) and outlawing abortion (and, in the case of some believers in Natural Law, contraception). Liberals say that the way to “reduce” abortion “teen sex” is to promote sexual education that encourages both promiscuity and contraceptive use.

Liberals argue for economic measures to reduce the hardships on women in crisis pregnancies, and I think few genuine pro-lifers would have a problem with that, in principle. It’s just a question of priority. Bob Casey, Sr., managed to do both in his Pennsylvania Abortion Restriction Act that Barack Obama has pledged to overturn.

But the issues go far beyond just the cases of individuals (however many) using these practices. We call things like abortion and contraception “crimes against humanity” because they do not just effect the perpetrators and their victims. To have these practices legalized damages society as a whole. When they are illegal, they may go on, but society, as a whole, says, “These things are wrong” (look at polls *before* abortion was legalized or contraception was legalized; compare those to polls *after*).

Most people define what is moral or immoral mainly by what is legal or illegal. If it’s not illegal, they generally consider it acceptable behavior. Making abortion and contraception legal encourages people to engage in these acts. And, even if people don’t engage in these acts themselves, they at least come to consider them “acceptable” practices or “necessary evils” (the way most Catholic Democrats see them today).

Making these things legal undermines the wider moral context of society, as we tread down the slippery slope that many Catholic prophets, from Chesterton to Paul VI, have warned us of: contraception, abortion, divorce, euthanasia, homosexuality, etc., all stem from the same tree.

We can pass laws that provide tax breaks for poor families, that provide various welfare programs, or that help people get jobs. We can tax any income about $200K per year or whatever arbitrary mark you want to set (I think the maximum income for any individual should be average cost of living for every adult in the household, plus 1/3 cost of living for each child. So if average cost of living is $30K, a family of 2 adults and 4 kids should only be alloewd to make $100K, max. But that’s another story). We can reduce the kinds of corporate and political corruption that rob people of their money. We can do all those things, and maybe we *should* do all those things. But none of those things will “eradicate” poverty. Our Lord Himself said, “The poor will always be with you.”

Poverty will never be completely stamped out in this world, and, the Church has always taught, anyone who claims to be able to do it, *by merely secular means*, is speaking for Satan, not Christ, offering a false hope. Similarly, to “eliminate” poverty would be to eliminate one of the Evangelical Counsels.

But the point remains: the goal of making some sin (be it hoarding of wealth or killing of a baby) illegal or of instituting programs to prevent the sin or help its victims is not eradicate the sin. It’s merely to both ameliorate the problem and to mend the rift that the problem creates in the collective conscience of society, and society’s relationship with God.


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